Thought for the day - 15/08/2013 - Abdal Hakim Murad

Across the country hundreds of thousands of young people are waiting for their A-level results, many of which will be announced later today. Pupils who have received conditional offers of university places, and have made the grade, will be able to relax; but for many others, it will be time to embark on the universities’ clearing process. Admissions offices will be inundated with calls from students whose grades debar them from the university of their choice, and are looking for an alternative.

It’s a kind of judgement day for many teenagers, perhaps the most stressful time they will ever have experienced. In a time of tuition fees and competition for scarce jobs, so much rides on the mini-interview that is likely to take place once they phone a university to see if they can offer them a place.

The adult world, which has designed this system for them, finds that it works quite well. For eighteen-year olds, though, it can feel very daunting. After the stress of the exam results comes a round of negotiations with unfamiliar institutions, and the possibility of ending the process with no place at all.

Alternatives are regularly proposed. Perhaps the system of conditional places is too complex and nerve-wracking, and students should apply only when they know their grades. Or perhaps the system of student loans adds significant additional pressure, and we should return to an older policy of free higher education.

Whatever the solution might be, stress levels among the young are high. Since the recession broke, we have seen a doubling of student suicide rates. Mature adults might lecture the young about being too hedonistic and tell them that life gets harder: but we often underrate the apocalyptic tension of the exam, application and clearing period...

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